When you first come to Japan, either as a tourist or a new resident, there are so many things you miss out on or you simply don’t notice. One of these things are the fast food and chain restaurants of Japan. Another thing is the name of the beef bowl place that is not Yoshinoya or Sukiya. I almost titled this article “the blue and yellow beef bowl place” because I didn’t know the name and chances are, when I said “the blue and yellow beef bowl place” you’d know what I was talking about. The sign doesn’t have any “romanized” or “romaji” or “western” letters on it, just Kanji. I can’t read kanji anyway, but the type is also stylized making it harder to read. For the record, the romanized name is Matsuya.

Fast food in Japan: Matsuya, the blue and yellow beef bowl place!

Fast Food in Japan

Now, I’m not a proponent of big fast food chains. I can’t tell you the last time I ate McDonald’s in America. But chain restaurants in Japan are different. They actually serve some pretty good food. The price can’t be beat, they’re open very late or for 24 hours and they have outposts in seemingly every shotengai (main shopping street) in Japan.

It’s the late night (or early morning) dining that makes Matsuya such a saviour. In America we have diners. They tend to be open 24 hours, at least the good ones are. In Japan, It’s the beef bowl and tempura bowl (gyudon and tendon, respectively) that are open at all hours. Which leads me to my first trip to Matsuya. I had gone to see a friend DJ and the party ended after the last train had departed. We wandered towards the station around 4AM, with still an hour to kill before the first trains would run. With stomachs empty we looked around for anything that was open and found salvation in Matsuya.

Easy ordering at Matsuya

We entered the brightly lit shop and were confronted with a ticket vending machine in front of us. This is pretty standard fare in casual fast food places like ramen shops. Usually they’re just a set of buttons with the menu items written (sometimes by hand) in Japanese on the buttons. This makes it intimidating to people who can’t read Japanese. Even I, who can read hiragana and katakana, can get intimidated sometimes. After a minute sounding out the words, a line starts to form behind me and invariably I just choose whatever’s on the top line—usually the house specialties.

Easy ordering at Matsuya, a 24 hour chain restaurant in Japan

Thankfully, this is not the case at Matsuya. Matsuya has an electronic vending machine, offering a full english menu with pictures. I chose the premium beef bowl with egg, spicy sauce and green onion. It comes with miso soup and I got an extra side order of kimchi. I also got a beer, which you would never be able to do in a fast food restaurant in America. The total was ¥1070; I put cash in the machine and in return it spit out 3 tickets. 

A standard meal at Matsuya, a 24 hour chain restaurant in Japan

I took all my tickets to the counter and gave them to the clerk. In about 3 minutes, he came back with a tray filled with food and alcohol. My friend and I sat down, cheersed (kanpai!) and dug into our premium beef bowls. The beef was lean and flavorful. I mixed the egg and the onions with the beef and the rice and put some kimchi on top. It was some of the finest food I’ve ever had at 4am.

For those looking for a late night meal—or just a cheap one—definitely go check it out. More information on their website here.

Post by Japan Journeys.